Gardiner mulls 70-unit “eco-cabin” resort

There is currently a proposal before the Gardiner Planning Board to build eco-cabins on a ridge above the Shawangunk Kill just west of the Tuthilltown Gristmill. This photo shows an old sluiceway, which runs along the Kill in the vicinity of the site. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

If Phillip Rapoport gets his way, the Tuthilltown neighborhood of Gardiner will soon be home to a 70-unit year-round ecotourism accommodation on the north bank of the Shawangunk Kill. It will feature “eco-cabins” of the low-tech sort pioneered by tropical destinations like the late lamented Maho Bay Campground in St. John, USVI. A New York City resident, Rapoport told the Gardiner Planning Board last week that he came up with the idea of creating such an eco-resort after years of visiting the area regularly to hike and climb in the Gunks, and feeling that the area lacked a “launching pad” for such active tourism.

Doing business as Heartwood NY, the young would-be developer acquired two parcels totaling 141 acres, sandwiched between Route 44/55 and the Shawangunk Kill, directly adjoining the western boundary of the Tuthilltown Spirits property. Once a part of the sprawling Smith family farm that also included the old gristmill that now houses the Tuthill House restaurant, the property proposed for the development most recently housed a commercial tree farm, now abandoned. The site is zoned RA (Residential/Agricultural).

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“It’s meant to be a peaceful place,” geared toward visitors who want to practice yoga and meditation as well as to participate in active outdoor sports, said Rapoport, who attended the March 21 planning board meeting along with his wife Kristin, attorney Joe Moriello, engineer Barry Medenbach of Medenbach & Eggers and two architects from the California-based design firm Electric Bowery. The eco-resort would feature “elegant modern cabins” that could accommodate more than 100 guests at one time, all set back a minimum of 1,000 feet from the road and 150 feet from the streambank in order not to be visually intrusive.

According to the design sketches and preliminary site plans presented by the architects, the resort would include a Main Lodge with a lobby, lounge, pool and spa with four treatment rooms. A separate Event Barn structure would be available to book for weddings for guests only. There would also be bocce and tennis courts. Parking areas would be dispersed.

Overnight accommodations would consist of two different types of cabins. Centrally located along the access road, near the Main Lodge, would be clusters of somewhat more traditional structures, built from structural insulated panels (SIPs), which are “sandwiches” of oriented strand board with a rigid polystyrene foam core. These buildings would include two “premium” three-bedroom cottages and 18 cabins with one or two bedrooms.

Strung along the top of the bluff overlooking the stream, hidden among the trees and accessible via mulched pathways, would be 40 less traditional eco-cabins: more like soft-sided tent houses, for visitors who want closer proximity to nature. According to Medenbach, all the cabin floors would be perched on helical pier foundations in order to minimize the amount of soil disturbance. “It’s like a big screw you put in the ground. Then you put a wooden frame on top,” the engineer explained. “It doesn’t disturb the tree roots so much.”

Other “green design” features are being incorporated into the plan, Medenbach said. Runoff from roofs would be collected in “rain gardens” and discharged into seepage pits in the soil. Passive cooling features like deep roof overhangs and breezeways will eliminate the need for air conditioning, according to Rapoport.

About 20 of the total 141 acres would be disturbed, and the developer expressed interest in moving the lot line so that the flattest, most open part of the property, the former tree farm, could be preserved as a working farm. “We’re thinking some combination of hay and vegetables,” Rapoport said. “We’d like to have our guests experience that.”

According to town planner Jim Freiband, a special permit will be required for a lodging facility in the RA Zoning District, along with the town’s site plan approval and a review by the Ulster County Planning Board. The Ulster County Department of Health “does not review the sanitary field until the preliminary plat” is accepted by the town, Freiband noted. The Gardiner Planning Board took the initial step of voting to take on lead agency role in the State Environmental Quality Review for the project. Members also made arrangements to inspect the site in person in two groups, on April 4 and 12.

Although town hall was packed with interested Gardiner residents for the presentation, no public comment was invited during the meeting, and it was unclear whether community sentiment was running for or against the proposal. A public hearing will be scheduled later in the permitting process.

There are 20 comments

  1. Just say NO

    So RA means that the property location is in a Rural Agricultural district, not zoned for a lodging facility.
    OH! BUT WAIT!
    We can call them “eco-cabins” and add some “green features” so all those tree huggers in Gardiner can get on board and fall in love with our business plan.
    How could they possibly be against it if we tell them it’s “green”?
    The only green that they are interested in the green in their bottom line.
    Residents of Gardiner, don’t fall for it and don’t let your town officials sell you out.

    1. Cindy C

      It may sound like a great addition to a residential area ONLY IF YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THE RESIDENTS. If it were such a great addition why would they have to seek changes in the zoning code to do it?

      1. Just say open minded

        1) what zoning changes do you mean? I thought there were no changes required

        2) your comment says, “if it’s a good project, why would it cause CHANGE?” Why do you think change is inherently bad? Not every resident of Gardiner thinks that change is bad.

        1. Cindy C

          You can not even quote something correctly, but instead you need to spin it to say what you want it to say. Be honest. Why would you intentionally “quote” something wrong. It is right above. Everyone can see and read it.

  2. ETS

    Absolutely zero consideration is being given to the residential neighborhood that borders this property. They are already bombarded by late night outdoor DJ’d parties from the Tuthill House, zero enforcement of drunk driving laws around the restaurant and the distillery, and untrained motorists passing homes in massive RVs as they attempt to get in and out of Yogi Bear. Gardiner has almost zero ability to enforce its existing codes or protect its residents under the law. This town has no business violating the established zoning laws that exist to protect us and allow a massive new business in this location. That this would even be considered is unbelievable.

  3. Concerned Gardiner Resident

    The article fails to mention the 4600 sq ft restaurant open to the public. Or that this development is in an area identified to have rare wildlife and vegetation. Also to note – this corridor is in the SPO zone (Scenic Protection) but not sure that matters to NYC residents!

  4. Ralph Erenzo

    The zoning was passed in 2008 by overwhelming majority. And it protects the Town according to the Master Town. AND the AR district explicitly lists accommodations as a ” Use by right” with a special permit from the Planning Board, which assiduously holds to the specifications developed by engineers, scientists, both Town and Planning Boards, the DEC, EPA. Before you draw conclusions read the Town Zoning, Master Plan and The 1968 Rivers Act (Fed). Rather an easy, no effort “No!” Try working to help the project be what benefits Gardiner.

    1. JMJ

      Your comments are duplicitous. Use by right is allowed by right you don’t need a special permit. Heartwood needs a special permit because their project is not a use allowed by right. They also do not comply with DEC recommendations. DEC recommends 1000 foot set backs from the Shawangunk Kill River. Heartwood has cabins 150 feet from the River. The community told Heartwood their concerns and what they could do to address them. Heartwood ignored the community.

  5. Follow the Money

    RALPH ERENZO’s comments should come with a disclaimer.
    For those of you who don’t know, RALPH ERENZO is the founder of Hudson Wiskey, also known as TUTHILLTOWN Distilllery. His business would be bolstered by the influx of tourists, diners, wedding guests and other visitors of this project. No wonder he is trying to sway opinion for his own benefit. Follow the money and you will see who is for this project. It is not the residents.

  6. Stakeholder Stewart

    Zoning Boards in your town the next town the entire county are never filmed broadcast and archived. That is because all the lawyers are cross-eyed. And those are just the ones who can see

  7. Alice

    JUST SAY NO. I here there many “secret investors.” Since Ralph sold his distillery, could he be one of these “private investors?” Valid question.
    His son owns a liquor establishment on Main Street in Gardiner. I have a problem when it is implied that these youngsters from NYC have 4-5 million dollars from their retirement fund (n they r only in their 30’s) and geez how would we, the poor folks in Gardiner fight that. There was a book called “The Millionaire Next Door.” Mull on that private investors. This will ruin Gardiner. Many vehicle accidents, too many to count. And the last one was a off duty police officer killed at Rt. 44/55 n Brunyswick Road on April 18, 2017. And lets not forget all those oh so silly, happy n buzzed visitors why have one to many drinks n get behind the wheel to injure and kill us. And please don’t say it doesn’t happen in Gardiner, bc the would be a lie. There will be many more. Light population, noise pollution, pollution into the Kill which is already dealing with the present problems on the Wallkill. These folks will be able to party hardy all day n nite. Quiet time would be from 11 PM – 8 AM. Can you imagine if your property was across from the Kill? The folks that live along the kill now are subjected to the music loudy coming from Tuthill house. And it echos through the valley. I know, I can hear it and I live 4 miles from Tuthill. Unbelievable. We will NOT WORK with THIS PROJECT. There is no upside to this project except to the folks that love to make their money on the backs of the environment n the residents that live here bc of Gardiners beauty. I say “No way, no how.”

  8. Jennie

    The land being developed is RA, not AR. Get your facts straight.

    The only allowed by right use is residential/agricultural. Again, Ralph, get your facts straight.

    The zoning code states that the development cannot impact any resident one iota more than what is allowed by right. The development is contrary to the code and if the Planning Board would bother to read the code then the development would be a non-issue.

    Eco-tourism is a bullshit designation. It’s tourist trade, and the money will go directly into the pocket of the resort owners who do not even live in this town. The developers will rape and pillage the natural resources of the town for their own profit. The town wont see any of the money as is evidenced by countless of other towns who sold out their residents in hopes of a quick payday. Not to mention that anything the town sees, will be offset by the amount the town will be paying to manage this ridiculousness i.e. pollution, noise, loss of environmental resources, traffic, disease, crime, and a whole host of other issues that come with transients.

    This is not about property rights. No one is contesting the fact or the right of the landowners to sell their property for agriculture or develop residential units. The opposition is that the Development is trying to take more rights than the law allows and as a result infringes on the rights of the citizens of Gardiner. The proposed development is excessive and violates Gardiner’s zoning law and the property rights of Gardiner’s citizens and is asking the Board to reduce the property rights of Gardiner’s citizens in favor of a foreign developer and transient population. This is insane and needs to be stopped.

    1. undecided

      Hi Jennie – it seems counterintuitive, but the town zoning code has a section called “Allowable Uses” and it lists what is allowed in R/A zone: http://ecode360.com/9151213

      I’m not arguing for or against the project, just pointing out that you can do more than just “residential and agricultural,” despite the name!

      1. JMJ

        Underneath “allowable uses” there are designations. Somethings are allowed as a matter of right on property zoned rural/agricultural. Some things are only allowed by special permit. The Heartwood development is NOT an allowable use as a matter of right. It requires a special permit. Special permits are “special” they do not have to be granted. Especially if the project does more harm than good. The benefits of this project are minimal compared to the harm it will cause.

  9. Pil

    As a Gardiner property tax payer, with a 1.5 income household, paying out the NOSE in property taxes, I am certainly interested in seeing business development that will contribute to our tax base, especially if it will help to revitalize the town and surrounding businesses, which are sitting quietly empty. For this reason, I’m not opposed to green development. I am skeptical of this one however, and wonder whether the benefits to the town will be outweighed by all the extra services we will have to provide: roads maintenance, utilities and law enforcement being among the most troubling. It would be different if we were looking at a proposal from someone local, but who is this guy and what do we really know about him? If his business fails, then what? It will be important to carefully consider the environmental impacts of this “green” development. 70 cabins, tennis courts, yoga – what’s that at full occupancy? A lot of transients. As a Gardiner resident, I am all for bringing outside money into our community and would support eco-tourism and spending, I am even for general development, which a lot of Gardinerites seem to oppose (especially the city transplants) but overnighting is a drain on any benefits we stand to gain, and I am just not convinced. We have enough weekenders driving up our taxes and draining our resources as it is.

    1. Warren

      Better than residential development, which would pack the schools with more kids! at least this pays taxes and wont use the schools.

  10. Adam Socker

    Sounds like a great addition for the community, I look forward to welcoming new tourists and the bump in business they will provide.

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